Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pirates of the 21st Century and What to Do About Them: SOPA and the Search for an Anti-Piracy Strategy in the Information Age

Both houses of Congress are currently taking up Bills (PROTECT-IP [Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act] in the Senate; SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] in the House) to bring the Constitution’s grant of power in Article One, Section Eight (“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”) up to date in a world of easy file sharing and copyright infringement. The language could not be more unequivocal—“exclusive Right”—and the topic received no debate in the Constitutional convention. The proposal, as they say, was a fait accompli and in an age of scribblers, pamphleteers, and all manner of inventors (Benjamin Franklin was only the most prolific of Convention attendees) it is not hard to figure out why.

There can be no serious question as to the right of content producers (the catchy 21st century way to describe artists, writers, and inventors) to earn whatever the marketplace will bear for their productions. And there can be no serious question as to the right of Congress to legislate for their protection. Yet, the anti-SOPA polemicists have attempted to argue just those very points. In my view, this discredits them almost entirely and leaves the intellectual debate open to the pro-SOPA advocates who are themselves advocating enforcement mechanisms that leave much to be desired and—contrary to the diatribes of the other side—centralizes great power in the Attorney General’s office, not the entertainment industry. In fact, the government is very open about that aspect of SOPA. Maria A. Pallante, the Register of Copyrights, testified before Congress to this effect, saying: “The response provided by SOPA is serious and comprehensive. It requires all key members of the online ecosystem, including service providers, search engines, payment processors, and advertising networks, to play a role in protecting copyright interests—an approach I endorse. Combating online infringement requires focus and commitment. It should be obvious that we cannot have intermediaries working at cross-purposes.” Here is the interesting bit: “SOPA is also measured. It appropriately provides much broader tools and flexibility to the Attorney General than it provides to copyright owners. This is a sound policy choice at this time. The Department of Justice has experience fighting online infringers, will use resources carefully [HA!], must exercise prosecutorial discretion in bringing actions, and must plead its case to the court and obtain a court-issued order before proceeding. Put another way, while the copyright industries are extremely important (and certainly a point of pride with respect to the U.S. economy), SOPA recognizes that many sectors rely on, invest in, and contribute to the success of the Internet.” And finally: “It is for this reason that SOPA puts only limited tools in the hands of copyright owners, and provides the Attorney General with the sole authority to seek orders against search engines and Internet service providers.”

Pallante even agrees with the harebrained paranoia directed at the legitimate owners of stolen material: “Unlike the Attorney General, however, copyright owners would not be able to block domain names or websites or otherwise affect the underpinnings of the Internet. Nor does SOPA permit monetary relief for copyright owners. By targeting sites dedicated to infringement and permitting injunctive relief only, it limits the incentive for copyright owners to overreach.” A representative piece of absurdist non-sense from the “other side” can be found on the reliably misguided Huffington Post, where Dean Baker—whose chief claim to expertise is that he is something called a “Progressive”—writes: “While the name [Stop Online Pirarcy Act] may lead the public to believe that Congress is trying to keep our email pure and our computer screens safe, the real story is that the 1 percent are again trying to rig the rules so that they get as many dollars as possible from the rest of us.” The Bill, of course, does not aim at either of those things, which means Baker is either a lout or engaging in an ineffective bit of reductio ad absurdum. Also, the property owner has an absolute right to charge whatever he likes, just as the potential consumers have just as much right to pay him what he asks—even though they would have gladly paid double—or not buy from him at all at any price.

The biggest problem with the SOPA debate among politicians and pundits is a fundamental misunderstanding—by nearly everyone writing about the topic—of what is actually going on in the marketplace and the government’s obligations to property owners. And that is what is being discussed here, property owners. The government guarantees limited monopolies to individuals, both real and legal (i.e. corporations), for their artistic productions and inventions so that if I write the great American novel, I am the one who can sell it to whomever for whatever price I am willing and able to negotiate and will not have to worry about everyone else printing off “free” copies or downloading it without paying me or to whomever I license the rights. The reason the pharmaceutical companies are backing SOPA is obvious—they see it as their general interest to bolster all copyright and patent protections because without them, their ability to sell and develop products will be minimized if not completely obliterated. People in countries other than the United States, whose government either buy their drugs for them or break international patent protections and manufacture them illegally might scoff—but they are free-riding off of the innovation which the rule of patent law makes possible in the United States.

But, SOPA seeks to shift the tough game of policing patent and copyright violations off of the shoulders of the property owners—where it has traditionally always belonged, as in famous cases surrounding such giants as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison—to the Attorney General. In addition to that innovation, SOPA also seeks to change the focus away from violators (many of the biggest violators are overseas) of copyright and patent laws to the intermediary, U.S. based companies that presumably unwittingly and unknowingly are used to transact the illegal business of online piracy. This means companies like Google, Facebook, and Paypal. Under this scheme, the Justice Department will act as a go-between for property owners and the intermediary facilitators by presenting evidence to a Judge and seeking injunctions on companies that fail to respond to five-day warning notices that they are in violation of the act because their users are violating someone’s or some company’s property rights. What is actually bothersome about SOPA is not, as Mr. Baker contends, that “the problem seen by the top executives at Disney and the other promoters of the SOPA is that they want to make more [money],” or as Michael Hiltzik writes in the L.A. Times, “Right there you can see that SOPA would place a nuclear weapon in the hands of copyright holders to use against websites they don’t like,” but that it passes off responsibility to protect intellectual property rights from the owners to the taxpayers. Also, instead of trying to come up with ways to get at the true international culprits of most of the large-scale piracy on the internet, property-owning backers of SOPA are trying to hamstring social networking and commerce facilitating companies and websites that criminals are abusing as a miniscule part of their otherwise totally legitimate business.

Do the intermediaries have a responsibility when they are made aware of their being made accessories to crimes? Of course, though under the current law, passed in 1998, they are exempted from liability--see this helpful piece on the matter. If they are notified in writing by the property owners and do nothing to disassociate themselves with criminals, then they are just as much a party to the criminal activity as if they themselves were perpetrating it. Should they be more pro-active? Probably, yes. But the only way to force them is to make it a legal and fiscal nightmare to not be more pro-active. One way the government could help is to define the law better and make it easier from property-owners to sue intermediaries in court when the offender lives in another jurisdiction and the intermediary makes no good faith effort to stop itself from being used for criminal activity.

When a person steals—let us be clear, they are stealing—someone else’s intellectual property, the proper recourse is to take that person to court and get damages and legal expenses awarded to them. If the government wishes to stiffen criminal penalties for copyright and patent violators, then the Congress should do that. Certainly some stiff financial penalties and real jail time would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction. This is not a victimless crime. Unlike recreational drug use and prostitution, intellectual property theft raises the prices of artistic productions for all of us. Beyond that, it drives producers from a marketplace where their ability to profit from their efforts is greatly reduced. The resulting cultural loss is incalculable. But more fundamentally—it violates a sacrosanct right a man has to the products of his own mind and the rewards that come from them when he offers them in trade to others.

The anti-SOPA people seem more concerned with pretending that the issues at stake are, somehow, about censorship—as if protection of property from theft could ever be a tool of censorship, which is the governmental suppression of intellectual property. A classic misrepresentation of the principles and rights at stake in this argument appeared on The Economist magazine’s blog: “The battle over SOPA is a fight between two hugely creative forces. The content companies want to protect a business that is the core of modern culture; the software companies are determined to defend the innovative power of an industry that has transformed the world in the past few decades. Tension between them is inevitable; but a redrafted law could surely deal fairly with both.” First of all, the only people with any rights at stake are the property owners. Software companies are not in any tension with them, unless they are claiming a non-existent right to facilitate intellectual property theft and be blameless even if they know who is doing it, where, when and how. This is a “right” no property respecting society could ever countenance. Ironically, embracing such a ridiculous notion would make Google’s own highly protected secrets—the code for the search engine for instance—as open to non-protection and theft as anything else.

The government clearly has a role in making sure that the copyrights and patents it grants are respected as inviolately as is any real estate anyone owns in the United States. Domestically, it already does that relatively well—keeping in mind that rights violations are always going to occur and always have since 1789—but internationally the government seems feckless and weak. That needs to end and the penalties need to be Draconian. Any government that actively subverts copyrights and patents ought to be thoroughly condemned and isolated internationally—particularly in such areas as medicine. The damage of violating patents of that nature is nightmarishly horrific when one contemplates the eradication of diseases we have seen in just the last century. No one, particularly no highly trained technical expert, can, should, or will work for free or for any salary other than what a free and rights protecting marketplace rightly rewards for highly valuable and beneficial works and inventions. To expect otherwise is to live in a fantasyland that never existed and which will never exist. Man uses his mind to reason, to live for his own sake, to create values and trade them with others. This is how he survives—indeed, how he prospers. Some men have a specialized knowledge that allows them to create tremendous values that nearly everyone might want or benefit from. Those men, or the companies who have license to their work, ought not to be denied the remunerative benefits associated with those values merely because everyone might want or need them. Without a pre-existing guarantee to reap the tremendous rewards, the value would almost certainly have never been created in the first place. This seems too easily forgotten in a world where people like Dean Baker glibly prattle on about a manipulative “1 percent.” That is tremendously unfortunate. It obscures the creative process by which the world’s billions came into being and are—by and large—fed, clothed, and vaccinated against diseases that routinely wiped out untold numbers of people for millennia--see here and here for just two of the more prominent examples.

But we ought not to try to make the Attorney General of the United States the copyright bully of the world, either. Property owners are obligated to protect their property by filing suit against domestic violators, by notifying third parties that they are being exposed to civil litigation by bad actors, and by then calling in the government through the courts to enforce their rights on all concerned. That system has served the republic well for more than two centuries and the internet—despite all the glazed over “wave of the future” befuddlement—does not fundamentally alter the right and wrong of the situation. Property owners ought instead to demand, and receive, easier mechanisms of bringing suit against those stealing or knowingly facilitating the theft of their property. Property owners ought instead to demand, and receive, stiffer criminal penalties and fines against the same. And property owners ought instead to demand a vigorous international campaign, led by the Federal Government, against countries that flout copyright and patent protections up to and including the suspension of all intercourse with such regimes. But, at the end of the day, all American property owners ought to understand that their only true protection is the American people and their government. Engaging in trade with a property destroying murder machine like China is a dubious proposition at best and it strains credulity in the vein of Claude Reins in Casablanca to accept that any of them are truly shocked that their property rights are destroyed and disregarded in such places. All they can truly expect is that the government will protect their rights absolutely in the portions of the globe where that government has an established legal supremacy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gary Johnson Either Needs to Take the Gloves Off or Drop Out

Former New Mexico Governor, and erstwhile GOP Presidential candidate, Gary Johnson has filed complaints with the FEC and FCC about his being ignored by the recent GOP Presidential Debates. But, with the current crop of eight candidates, some of whom (Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman for instance) are barely at 1% in all recent national polls according to Gallup and Real Clear Politics, some already see too many players on the stage. Gary Johnson is, of course, claiming that his exclusion from the debates bears responsibility for his low visibility and low poll numbers (when they even exist).

But how credible is that in 2011? The voters he is appealing to are an Internet savvy lot who are currently giving Texas Congressman Ron Paul a very prominent national platform from which to speak. They are the most likely to be aware of Governor Johnson's candidacy and the most likely to be able to examine him closely on the Internet and at his campaign website specifically. Ever since 2004, and the unlikely rise of Internet candidate Howard Dean (a similarly little known governor from a small population state), the world wide web has been the means of catapulting relative unknowns with little money into the prime time. That, and book sales, were directly responsible for the meteoric rise of President--then candidate and Senator--Obama as well as Johnson's more obvious roadblock, Ron Paul.

Beyond that, Johnson's central claim--that he's being boxed out by the media--is simply untrue. For a candidate polling as marginally as Johnson he's been on television (free air time on a national level) numerous times. A quick search shows him on Fox News here, here, and here; CNN here; MSNBC here; and Comedy Central here. Obviously, this is just a sample, he's been on TV bemoaning the fact he's not on TV many additional times. He was even included in one major national debate despite polling in the Thaddeus McCotter basement. Keep in mind, it was this very same debate that sent Rick Perry into the wilderness and brought Herman Cain into the fore.

Governor Johnson's real problems are two-fold. The first is that his major competitor for libertarian leaning Republicans is Ron Paul, a man with whom he has no substantial policy disagreements (except, of course, on abortion rights; Paul is against choice, Johnson supports reproductive autonomy). Despite their being nearly simpatico on the major issues domestically and internationally, Ron Paul--as I have indicated elsewhere--is a severely flawed candidate. Anyone who actually took Paul seriously--and I think it's obvious the only person who has an interest in doing so at the moment is Gary Johnson--would have no trouble at all in gathering evidence for a compelling case for why Paul is unqualified for the position he currently holds, let alone the Presidency. And, yet, when given national platforms to appeal to Paul's supporters (most of whom are ignorant of their candidate's serious flaws), Governor Johnson routinely fails to do so--going so far as to compliment Paul with a hypothetical Vice-Presidential nomination at his debate appearance.

That is Johnson's second problem: he has been far too amiable and aloof from the realities of politics and Presidential campaigns. It is not always advisable to go negative in an election campaign--but when the man blocking you from being in the debates by monopolizing the voters most likely to support you and sucking up all the available air in the room is a moral Pygmy like Ron Paul, you have to go for the jugular. It is, literally, Governor Johnson's only hope for sparking his campaign and gaining the poll numbers he needs to get his foot in the door. You cannot win a disputed Presidential nomination by being a horrendous jerk (see Howard Dean) but you have no hope of doing so being Mr. Rogers. Either Johnson bites the bullet and takes on Ron Paul directly and splits his supporters, thereby getting himself into the debates where he can appeal to the rest of the GOP caucus and primary voters, or he gives up now and saves the time, money, and effort of continuing his current exercise in futility for another couple of months.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Curse of the Internet: Fake Historical Quotes

By Alexander Marriott

The internet is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest inventions of all time. It has revolutionized the ways in which commerce occurs, the ways in which information is accessed and exchanged, the ways in which people find romance, and the ways in which people read, generate, and comment on the news. These are merely a few of the myriad ways in which the internet daily alters and enhances the quality of the lives of anyone who has the ability and patience to access and use it.

Of course, like any inanimate object, the internet is subject to the motives and purposes of the people using it. And, like most everything else, those who are either willfully nefarious or woefully oblivious have been using the internet in ways that make professional historians cringe. Here I mean to fabricate and disseminate fake quotes attributed to a wide variety of historical actors. The motives for those doing this knowingly are diverse--they are from all political persuasions and all philosophical and religious schools of thought. Most of the people spreading these fake quotes on the internet, however, are well meaning people who think they have found authoritative succor from one of history's giants. Or, sadly for the professors amongst us, they are hapless undergraduate students in history classes who have yet to fully grasp the proper methodology involved in vetting and evaluating primary and secondary sources. That historians are so sensitive to these matters and other people who majored in something else seemingly are not suggests a disturbing lack of formal training in other disciplines about how to evaluate evidence. But that's a matter for a different day.

The desire to have quotes on topics one cares about is natural, but it is symptomatic of the propensity to error and fallacious reasoning; namely arguing from authority--
argumentum ad verecundiam--and arguing from popularity (in this case, the popularity of the Founding Fathers)--argumentum ad populum. Let me be clear, evidentiary exposition from qualified authorities not taken out of context can be valid supports for an argument. But, quotes, by themselves, or out of context, are not arguments. FAKE quotes, are not anything at all except evidence that the person doing the quoting is careless and lazy—and, by implication, possibly dishonest and unreliable.

I have personally come across a number of quotes in online contexts--many on Facebook, from well meaning friends--that are obvious fakes. There are just some quotations that strain credulity. For instance, this "famous quote" from a sad Woodrow Wilson:

"I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world — no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men." -- Wilson is alleged to have said this circa 1916 in regret for having championed the Federal Reserve Act of 1913

Salon has already done the legwork to show that this quote is fraudulently misleading. But one only has to read the opening pages of Allan H. Meltzer's History of the Federal Reserve to gain a sense of just how proud Wilson was of the Federal Reserve for having removed the role of lender of last resort from the hands of private bankers like J. P. Morgan. The hysteria and nonsense that Ron Paul and other prominent pseudo-historians and actual anti-Semites have stirred up around banking and the Federal Reserve in particular has led to works of insanity like this. Every quote that I checked in that video is a fake--and I didn't check them all, it's too crazy to put in that much effort after the first half dozen or so flunk out.

Traveling back in time to my own period of study and interest, let's take just two of the Founding Fathers who have cottage industries of fake quotations spewing forth from them--or mangled quotations, another popular method of attaching quasi-legitimacy to an argument--Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Some Franklin quotes about which historians are skeptical (rightly) way very well be real. For instance,
James McHenry's notes include an anecdote of an alleged exchange that occurred between Franklin and an anonymous woman as the delegates left Independence Hall having just signed the Constitution in September 1787. The woman allegedly asked Franklin if they had signed off on a monarchy or a republic and Franklin, according to McHenry, quipped back, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Of course, the quote is perfect and vintage Franklin--short and profound. It's the Poor Richard homespun that the legend of Franklin has enshrined solidly from his own day straight down to ours almost unscathed. But, for historians, there are a couple of issues that prevent them from putting much stock in this quote. For one, it's an anecdote reported by one man in an undated entry in his notes that was not widely known of until, in the 1930's, Max Farrand issued a new series of volumes on the Constitutional Convention and the State Ratification Debates--and then only as a footnote. For another, it's a little odd that a random woman would sling this particular question at Franklin. Few people--even in the Convention, where there was far more trepidation about democracy than among the people of democratic Philadelphia and democratic Pennsylvania--expected the Convention would produce anything except revisions to the Articles of Confederation, let alone the stupendous usurpation of a monarchy. It would be tantamount to asking Franklin if he were walking on Mars or Earth as he exited the building. This is not to say the exchange did not occur as McHenry remembered it--it may very well have--but it would still be extremely peculiar all the same. The sentiment of the answer, however, is perfectly consistent with the widely acknowledged fragility of the republican form of government--among the very paramount reasons for the Convention's meeting in the first place. So the quote, real or not, has found a resonance in popular, historically minded political culture that is not easy to dislodge--as seen here in this recent work from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Another famously mangled and misused fake Franklin quote goes something like this: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." Of course, Franklin in the 1750's--in the context of the French and Indian war raging in western Pennsylvania, and the confrontation of pacifist Quakers with the those who wanted to fight the war, including Franklin, in the state legislature--did say this when he wrote to the Governor: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." As Michelle Malkin points out here, the differences in the quotes are critically important to getting at the contextual accuracy of Franklin's meaning. If we place the quote in the actual paragraph it occurs in--a message to the Governor on behalf of the Pennsylvania Legislature concerning the failure to properly arm and supply the frontiersmen doing the fighting and being chased eastward, the meaning becomes fairly plain:

"In fine, we have the most sensible Concern for the poor distressed Inhabitants of the Frontiers. We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pennsylvania, for their Relief, and we have Reason to believe, that in the Midst of their Distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Such as were inclined to defend themselves, but unable to purchase Arms and Ammunition, have, as we are informed, been supplied with both, as far as Arms could be procured, out of Monies given by the last Assembly for the King’s Use; and the large Supply of Money offered by this Bill, might enable the Governor to do every Thing else that should be judged necessary for their farther Security, if he shall think fit to accept it."

To see the entire message, the Papers of Benjamin Franklin are online (like most other primary documents collections from such prolifically famous statesmen of this time period) here (the reply is from November 11, 1755).

From the uncertain and the mangled, there are the outright frauds. For instance, a very popular Franklin fake goes like this: "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." One need not be a historical expert to smell this as a fake immediately. First of all--the Founders did not believe that rights were "given" by documents; rather, rights existed a priori as facts of man's nature and the nature of the universe. Hence, their unalienability. Secondly, Franklin was present for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence--playing a crucial role on the committee as a lead editor of Jefferson's original draft--where the phrase "pursuit of happiness" occurs and not, as the "quote" seems to suggest, the U.S. Constitution. Franklin was also present, of course, for the drafting and debate of the U.S. Constitution as was already discussed above. The Constitution does not recapitulate that phrase; in fact, the Constitution as presented from Philadelphia contained no Bill of Rights at all. Furthermore, Franklin died before the amendments that became known as the Bill of Rights were ratified and became a part of the Constitution and, of course, none of the proposed amendments recapitulated the phrase "pursuit of happiness." So, on the face of it, this quote is highly suspicious. On top of that, like most fake quotes, it has no attribution that would allow a curious person to look it up and find out more of its context for themselves. This is the hallmark of every two-bit fake on the internet--but just having attribution guarantees nothing. Fortunately for those curious about this particular "quote," the blog of The Economist has already debunked it, along with a popular "quote" of Thomas Jefferson (“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite").

Aside from the above, Jefferson is mistakenly "quoted" all the time for every conceivable end--religious and atheist, right and left. I have recently debunked two lousy fakes passed along as real wisdom of the sage of Monticello from Facebook friends of diametrically opposing worldviews. From what I would kindly describe as a leftist friend came this gem "from" Jefferson:
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [these banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power [of currency] should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."

This is a hodgepodge combination of fake and out of context "quotes." According to the team working out of Monticello--which has been diligent in hunting down these fake "quotes" from Jefferson--Jefferson said some things partially similar to this in private letters and some things not at all. As you can see from their excellent discussion of the sourcing for this "quote," most of it is simply imaginary--the glaring giveaway is the sudden appearance of the words "inflation" and "deflation." Neither was used in Jefferson's day. Also, words like that—so seemingly prophetic of today’s problems—are classic signs, I have found, of the Ron Paul, Lyndon LaRouche, anti-banking conspiratorial fringe. Those working in that backwater are some of the worst offenders when it comes to creating, and then running through an echo chamber over and over and over again, fake quotes. When I pointed out that this quote was bogus and provided the link to Monticello that explains how and why, the literal response I received from some person I am not familiar with was: "fake or not... it is the truth..." A stunningly honest admission that the entire hunt for a confirming authority quotation is all a bit of a canard for many would-be internet historians.

From a friend much more to the right, came this, perhaps the most highly exposed fake quote around right now; from the alleged lips of Thomas Jefferson: "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." Again, the historians at Monticello have already taken care of this quote and have been nice enough to announce their work to the world, but people evidently cannot be troubled to look into the authenticity of quotes. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a sadly misinformed blowhard from the Fox Business Channel and the Fox News Channel (where he incredibly serves as the "Senior Judicial Analyst"), uses this quote like it's going out of style both on TV and in private speaking engagements. For instance, see this one (where other fake quotes abound) and skip to the 29:40 mark for this particular quote delivered as the stirring conclusion to a speech otherwise laced with deluded fantasy.

It is remarkable how much people 1) wish to wrap their ideas and opinions up in the mantle of some historical authority and 2) how little time they spend in actually learning about the history involved and reading the actual primary sources that would allow them to do so with some manner of skill. It is not as if the sources are locked away and hidden from people. Aside from manuscripts that are held in institutions--academic or otherwise--that have some manner of procedure in place for anyone to come and have a look at the collections, a great deal is available digitally (and free) at the Library of Congress, Google Books, and any number of University or research institution affiliated websites--like this one or this one. Beyond that, public and local college and University libraries have most or all of the published papers of figures like Franklin, Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln etc. (and in the links you can see all their papers digitized from the Library of Congress) and a great number of primary sources are published for public consumption from presses like the Library of America and the Liberty Fund. Spreading false quotations unknowingly is an inexcusable error that should not occur--it's simply too easy to verify a quote for it to happen. But, since it seems to be a recurring issue, below are my easy to follow guidelines for evaluating quotes that you don't know for sure are authentic.

1)      If the quote seems very prophetic of specific modern concretes, then be wary.

2)      If the quote has no attribution, be very wary.

3)      If the attribution is impossible for you to hunt down, DO NOT repost until you have done more work.

4)      If you quote the quotation into a Google search and all that pops up are fringe and wacko websites peddling conspiracy theories—reposting the alleged quote ad nauseum—you almost certainly have a fake.

5)      Only repost a quotation when you know for sure that it is authentic and you are familiar enough with the context in which the quote came about to explain why, where and when it was either said or written.

a.       Do not be afraid to demand such information from those who post or repost unattributed quotations.

Finally, you do not need a famous person to validate your arguments for anything. It can be a nice touch, it can add a flourish to your conclusion or lend brilliant phraseology to your point, but at the end of the day—you and George Washington can both be wrong for the same reasons. But if you wish to quote someone, please be mindful of context and accuracy—because there is no easier way to upend any argument that relies on authoritative quotations than to point out that either 1) it’s a fake, or 2) you’ve horribly misrepresented the meaning of the quote in question.
Fake Internet Quotes and Funny T-Shirts

There are numerous fake internet quotes attributed to various founding fathers. The two biggest victims seem to be Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. I will have a thorough post on this shortly. In the mean time, check out these awesome t-shirts!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Calling the Media—When is Ron Paul Going to Have to Answer?

By Alexander Marriott

Among the contenders for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination polling in or near the double digits only one sticks out as a true ugly duckling: Texas Congressman, and former OB/GYN, Ron Paul. Often pointed to as the “libertarian” candidate, Dr. Paul quixotically (heroically to his admirers) zeroes in on monetary policy, the existence of the Federal Reserve, and the “business cycle,” while his opponents debate the merits of their gimmicky tax/economy/jobs plans. But his most jarringly discordant notes come in foreign policy—particularly concerning the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Dr. Paul raised eyebrows during a GOP Presidential debate in August when he shrugged off the notion that Iran might get a nuclear weapon, comparing the theocratic regime to the Communist regimes of the old Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. He followed this bravura performance with an appearance on Fox News where he blandly acceded to the notion that Israel had nothing to fear from an Iranian nuke because: “The Iranians don’t have a tradition of sending troops and invading countries 6000 miles from their shore and occupying another country. [As] a matter of fact, they’re pretty respectful of their borders....” Further, he has advocated a "friendship" with a country that the State Department (see overview on pg. 150-151) and every terror expert in the world has indicted for numerous attacks on American interests and allies around the world--calling reports of Iranian nuclear ambitions "blown out of proportion."

The world has waited with baited breath after the revelation of the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Paul to revise his, some might say naive, position on the threat posed to Israel and the United States by a terrorist sponsoring Islamic theocracy. Instead, Paul told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “I think it’s mostly war propaganda. They’ve been itching to go to war against Iran for a long, long time. This is exactly what they did leading up to the war in Iraq, and the danger was not there.”

Why is this important? Isn’t this all simply the classic expression of libertarian non-intervention? Perhaps. But Ron Paul has a history, curious associations, and a veritable army of “interesting” supporters. Without coming right out in a poor imitation of Emile Zola, how exactly does a major presidential candidate with so much anti-Semitic baggage—past and present—glide unscathed from one media interview and debate to another? Paul is the only major candidate sporting a foreign policy which guarantees—if he is mistaken about Iran—the destruction of seven million Jews. A devastating exposĂ© is potentially right there. Where is the media?

First, the history. In 2008, when Paul’s bid for the GOP nomination really garnered nation-wide support and attention, The New Republic and Reason Magazine covered a disturbing story about Congressman Paul’s writings from the 1980’s and early 1990s that contained a host of racist remarks and played into a number of insidious conspiracy theories. Congressman Paul’s excuses for these newsletters that were sent out under his name was that they had been ghost-written by some unknown aid—most likely the loathsome Lew Rockwell. The story did not progress much from there. Paul went on to rail against the Fed and Lew Rockwell continued to give him advice. (See also David Harsanyi's more recent piece in Reason Magazine.) Jeffrey Lord, at the American Spectator, has been among those at the forefront here, and here, in exposing the serpentine paths of Paul's anti-semitic connections. They are in-depth analyses of the beliefs of Dr. Paul and his associates and I cannot recommend them enough to people looking for more information about these issues.

Everyone has surely noticed Ron Paul’s passionate obsession with the Federal Reserve. The innocent interpretation of this is that Paul is a true libertarian and opposes central banking, fiat money, and government controlled interest rates. This is all probably true. But there is something else going on with Paul’s attack on the Fed that seems to go unnoticed. Delve into an internet message board of Paul supporters and you cannot fail to see references to “New World Order” and people bemoaning international financiers and bankers. Eventually, you will be directed to a book by G. Edward Griffin, The Creature from Jekyll Island (5th ed., 2010).

Those who used to be glued to Glenn Beck’s pseudo-history show on Fox News might remember that during an episode in March 2011, Beck gave this book and its author central prominence. Why does this matter? Aside from having no pretensions to being a historian, and aside from setting up a publisher to print his own book (thus avoiding pesky things like peer review), Mr. Griffin’s opus has chapters entitled “Building the New World Order,” “The Rothschild Formula,” and “The Creature Swallows Congress.” And, when you get to the back cover, what do you find just above the blurb of famed financial historian Willie Nelson (yes, THAT Willie Nelson)? Why, none other than Ron Paul and this outlandish praise: “A superb analysis deserving serious attention by all Americans. Be prepared for one heck of a journey through time and mind.” Other acknowledged experts in the field include a man from "New Jersy" and world-renowned banking expert, "Stan." On the right is a picture of the back cover of the most recent edition of the book.

Forget the goofy chapter titles and bizarre lingo (“the Mandrake mechanism,” for instance), what is the trouble with this book and author? Take the author first. Griffin is also “famous” for propagating a theory of cancer (he’s also not an M.D., in fact his credentials are a Bachelors in Speech and Communication along with the exalted rank of certified financial planner) as a metabolic disorder. Why is it not cured? You guessed it, a cabal-run conspiracy of medical professionals and drug companies does not want to see their livelihood--cancer--eradicated by a cheap cure. If you want to review Griffin's healthcare bookstore, you can also learn about the dangers and ineffectiveness of vaccinations. For a scientifically peer-reviewed overview of why Mr. Griffin, an untrained non-specialist, is wrong about this, see Dr. Victor Herbert's rebuttal in the May, 1979 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

When he’s not engaged in that quackery, he’s off searching for the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Yes, that Noah’s Ark. Oh yes, he also once upon a time wrote speeches for George Wallace’s vice-presidential nominee. Yes, that George Wallace. Don’t worry though, according to Griffin (while all of the material Griffin puts in this omnibus post is interesting, scroll down to "GRIFFIN "EXPOSED" AS SPEECHWRITER FOR GENERAL LEMAY!"), Wallace was merely “widely perceived as a Southern racist.” That’s right; it was everyone else’s fault for observing reality. To have a look at Griffin's conspiracy-pandering immediately after his failure to elect George Wallace to the Presidency, see this (particularly from minute eight onwards).

As for the book. No undergraduate history major would ever get away with writing one page of Griffin’s tome--primary sources are virtually non-existent and secondary sources are woefully outdated. This is tantamount to a criminal act against the practice of history given the nature of the narrative accusations contained in the book. He is constantly discussing things he has no personal knowledge of without any references. His bibliography looks impressive—but it’s missing seemingly very important books given his topic. He writes about the Rothschilds but ignores Niall Ferguson’s two volume biography of the family. (To see classical liberal historian Niall Ferguson discuss this and many other issues, watch this interview.) He does, however, rely on noted anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers like Eustace Mullins (see also how Paul's supporters lionize Mullins, here). It’s right there in the black ink of his own press.

The book contains all the modern, quite obviously racist canards, of the "paleoconservative" revisionism that is the raison d'etre of organizations like the Ludwig von Mises Institute and pseudo-scholars (and radically pro-Confederate racist revisionists) like Thomas J. DiLorenzo (see an interview with him here, and the Southern Poverty Law Center's description of modern Neo-Confederate intellectuals here). Slavery is not the cause of the Civil War, says Griffin, but the "legal plunder" of Northern industrialists against southern agrarians who desperately sought to invest their capital in more efficient resources than inefficient expensive slaves was the true cause. Despite the fact that he cannot even point to an old secondary source that contains such a reductio ad absurdum distortion of historical reality (and they certainly exist, see one of the few secondary sources he does use here), he also willfully ignores modern scholarship which is overwhelmingly based on the writings--public and private--of Southerners themselves to indict their vicious and callous and open pro-slavery motivations for rebellion. (For more on this, check out the Library of America series on Civil War writings from those who lived through the war.) Ron Paul has publicly endorsed these views as well, and I addressed them in very condemnatory language at the time.

Now, the Federal Reserve is almost assuredly engaged in foolish policies while performing an inherently illegitimate mission—many famous economists and political philosophers have held that position. The actual historian of the Fed, Carnegie Mellon economist Allan H. Meltzer, is often highly critical of the role the Fed plays in the economy. It is possible to be a critic of the Fed without it becoming a crazed, paranoid, obsession with Rothschild financier conspiracies hatched on island resorts.

And this brings us back to the troubling pattern of Dr. Paul’s history, friends, wild-eyed fans, and policies. As President, Paul would have to wait for Congress to audit/abolish the Federal Reserve, but he could immediately commit the country publicly to doing nothing about Iran. Can we count on a man who thinks theocratic, jihadist, holocaust denying Iran is no different than Cuba to defend American interests and allies? What if he did write his own newsletters, knows his advisors are anti-Semitic, nods and winks at his many Neo-Nazi supporters and knowingly endorses conspiracy-ridden screeds that pin all manner of crimes on a family of Jewish aristocrats and financiers? These are questions that need answering. But someone needs to ask him first.

(Mark Levin did a great segment on this very issue in August 2011. Do your own research!)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Congress--not the President--makes law; a constitutional solution to the legislative impasse on the debt ceiling

Is it just me, or does this entire debt ceiling discussion business seem odd and bizarre? The President has stepped into a legislative conflict between the House of Representatives (240 Republicans to 192 Democrats, 3 empty seats) and the Senate (51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 liberal Independents). The President, as far as law-making goes, can merely propose ideas and has a limited veto power. Given the statements of his Treasury Secretary, and his own statements, it seems obvious to me that if any bill makes it to his desk--and by definition any such bill has to have at least some bipartisan support--he will have absolutely no choice but to sign it.

Now, the trick, as far as I can tell, is gaining enough Democratic Senators for a bill out of the House to make an up-or-down vote certain to pass. Would Harry Reid, at that point, actually allow a filibuster to prevent a bill that solved the current impasse from coming to a vote on the floor? I don't think that's credible--he'll be seen, rightly, as blocking it purely out of partisan motives and a default will be placed purely on his shoulders. Which Democratic Senators might be induced to join some small package (probably between $2.5 and $3 trillion of debt limit increase paired with some manner of spending cuts) deal? Below is a cursory list of the people I think are most vulnerable to political pressures in their home states to get on board a solution which the President, at the end of the day, could never veto without taking full ownership of blame--which is his anyway.

This list includes only the 13 most obvious targets, many of whom face tough re-election battles where sticking it to the President will help them substantially next year when they try to make the case in their right-leaning states for being sent back to Washington. If all the Republicans held and all of these Senators joined them, it would, of course, make filibuster impossible, but if even half of this list could be brought on board, I'm convinced that the Senate would have an up-or-down vote and the President would have absolutely nothing to do but sign the bill or look like a petulant fraud.

Mark Begich - Alaska
Mark Pryor - Arkansas
Mark Udall - Colorado
Michael Bennet - Colorado
Joe Lieberman - Connecticut
Bill Nelson - Florida
Mary Landrieu - Louisiana
Claire McCaskill - Missouri
John Tester - Montana
Kay Hagan - North Carolina
Tim Johnson - South Dakota
Jim Webb - Virginia
Joe Manchin - West Virginia

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Who's Afraid of Alexander Hamilton?

So it seems to be a recurring issue in discussions about the founders that Alexander Hamilton is basically the odd ball who was working against the liberty and freedom so cherished by Jefferson and Madison--and later Adams when he reentered the Republican fold. Of course, one needs to always be mindful of the partisan political situation of the 1790s that pitched Hamilton and George Washington himself against Jefferson and his friends. Adams became disliked by both Hamilton's allies and Jefferson's for a specific series of reasons relating to the abortive war with France in 1798-1799. But all of these men were working to address serious issues relating to the fragility and survival of the republic as it came perilously close to war during the 25 year period surrounding the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Jefferson, not Hamilton (or Washington for that matter), failed to separate himself from the French Revolution when it became obvious to many that that struggle no longer had anything to do with liberty. That disagreement fundamentally colored much of the interpretive invective both figures and their followers hurled at one another. Hamilton was a British sympathizer in the European war (or against the French) and thus a secret monarchist while Jefferson was pro-French and therefore an unstable Jacobin demagogue. When Hamilton was killed in a duel in 1804 (Washington, his great defender, died in 1799) there was no one of his stature left to either defend his ideas and actions or protect his legacy. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and later Andrew Jackson were content to let Hamilton remain a misguided and dangerous bogeyman rather than critically reexamine their own actions later on to admit at least to themselves where Hamilton may have the better arguments. It's absurd to exalt Jefferson over Hamilton in terms of legacy to the republic (his only post of real prominence was as Washington's Tresury Secretary from 1789-January 31, 1795) when it was President Jefferson who embraced and established a number of terrible precedents in his second term to enforce his misguided policy of embargoing all American commerce (thus requiring the Federal government to rigorously enforce the policy on the borders, which led to wholesale violations of the fourth amendment in the effort to stymie illicit trade). Even Jefferson's Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin--the man in charge of enforcement--admitted the policies required to make the embargo work were utterly arbitrary and worse than war if they lasted for very long.

Hamilton, a veteran of the Revolutionary War who fought at the battle of Yorktown as well as serving for several years in the important post of aide-de-camp to General Washington, never had to justify his place as an American in his own day. [He also served in the Continental Congress after the war, had written an influential pamphlet series in the very beginning of the struggle before ditching Columbia for the Continental Army, and was, of course, extremely influential and important in the ratification fight in New York and nationally] Certainly Jefferson would never publicly have questioned Hamilton's motives for fear of having his own Revolutionary experience--being chased away from Richmond as Governor by the British as they captured and ransacked the capital of the Virginia--laid at his feet (for a period he was openly condemned as a coward). Plus, unlike Hamilton, Jefferson never openly went about doing anything, he always worked behind the scenes even to the point--in Washington's opinion--of being blatantly duplicitous. Hamilton, on the other hand, never shut his mouth and was unafraid of saying unpopular things to the people—to the point of being hit in the head with a rock during a particularly close and bitter election in New York City. All of these men had serious issues and made serious mistakes, but trying to pin the failures of the founding on one man alone or even predominantly is silly, absurd, and supremely unfair. Particularly to such a man as Alexander Hamilton.

If you think the mere fact that Jefferson came to hate and despise Hamilton so much is, ipso facto, all the evidence one needs, consider this; Franklin Delano Roosevelt hated Alexander Hamilton--thought he was the original heartless capitalist monster--and loved Thomas Jefferson so much that he built him a huge monument. If simply having worthy admirers makes one ok later on, consider that when Jefferson finally forced Washington to choose between himself and Hamilton, Washington simply let it be known that Jefferson had made that decision for them both already.

Below are what I consider to be the best of the best of Hamilton scholarship that make an irrefutable case for the man's values, courage, brilliance and undying commitment to liberty and freedom. As well there are links to his writings which are almost uniformly excellent. Was he wrong sometimes, occasionally quite disastrously? Absolutely. But only Washington ever came very close to getting most things correct--major things anyway--and yet his errors are also large and glaring. Hamilton, like all of them, was a flawed hero, but a hero all the same.

But whatever else you read, avoid "politically incorrect" guides to American history and such hack job "scholarship" being offered by people like Thomas J. DiLorenzo. Those sources are worse than useless as they are fundamentally dishonest about context, evidence, and any number of other things.

Gerald Stourzsh

Ron Chernow

Forrest McDonald

John Lamberton Harper

Karl-Friedrich Walling

Alexander Hamilton: Writings

The Federalist Papers

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Historians as Partisans, Partisans as Historians

"Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered." - Historian William Cronon, "Wisconsin's Radical Break"

Having read Cronon's historical works, I cannot say I'm surprised by his criticism of things (terrible things) like "self-certainty." He also slips in vague and undefined concepts like "good government" that are allegedly imperiled by the effort to revoke absurd union privileges--not rights--and try to balance his state's budget. Go figure.

But perhaps most unacceptable for a historian, Cronon decides this situation can be better understood by historicizing the issues and then fails to deliver. Now he may be correct in attempting to historicize the issues (though he does not do so from the vantage point of intellectual history and is, thus, bound to fail), but when he executes it, he only historicizes it back to the era of statist Progressives without pointing out what those people were all about.

In Cronon's rehash, La Follete and the rest of the Wisconsin progressives were just do-gooders looking out for the little guy against big meanies in industry. They won alleged rights for Unions and others that are something to be proud of and now new big bad meanie Scott Walker comes along and undoes a century of "PROGRESS." Cronon is entitled to his philosophy of anti-industrialism (read "Nature's Metropolis") and he's entitled to use his knowledge of history to advance that philosophy all day (just like radical Marxist historian Sean Wilentz), but he should be more upfront and honest about it.

He should also learn to define sloppy terms like "good government." Who objects to good government? The rub is how one defines the role of government and thus evaluating what sorts of government actions are good and which are not. Cronon's progressive heroes were statists, eugenicists, and demagogues. And the Unions they secured "rights" for were notoriously racist and corrupt labor cartels.

But you'd scarcely know any of that living in the William Cronon fantasy land of revisionism--since at the time Progressives were in the minority and were derided as the dangerous demagogues that they were--except of course in what was at the time a bizarro state called Wisconsin.

The article is good for laughs though, like this particularly hyperbolic and dishonest rant:

"Mr. Walker’s conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state’s tradition of open government.

 "Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”"

William Cronon is a lot of things (at times even a decent historian)--but he could only be a centrist in a way far left of center place like Madison, Wisconsin. William Cronon hesitates at the Rubicon of nationalizing industry and thus, in Madison, he's a wobbly centrist. As for honorable Wisconsin politics--give me a break. The state of Wisconsin has created the most corrupt union-dominated class of state sycophants I have seen in a long time. Creating mobs at the drop of a hat to threaten a legislature and governor with assassination over modifying what are unheard of privileges that no one deserves to have granted to them through the force of the state. Has Mr. Cronon no decency to understand the other side's argument at all? No, of course not. He decries partisanship because it means challenging entrenched interests and lazy assumptions--all of which Wisconsin is drowning in at the moment.

Besides, where is the accountability and "open government" of the Democratic State Senators? Cronon completely ignores (probably as some sign of his independence and centrism) the Democrats of the Wisconsin Senate, who, instead of rallying the public and delaying motions on the floor of the legislature (as is their job), fled to another state and did the opposite of their job. They did this for no other reason than to avoid a vote they knew they would lose, indeed to prevent a vote from occurring at all (so much for all the superficial talk of "process.") It was a shameless attempt to bring the government to a halt and prevent the lawful will of a fairly elected majority to do its job. Had the Republicans done that in years past when in the minority one can scarcely imagine the outrage and calls for decency that would have poured in upon them from the likes of William Cronon. But I'm sure it would have been as laughably absurd as his current faux outrage.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Selfish Case for Libyan Intervention

I never intended to write a serious exposition in support of Libyan intervention for two principal reasons. 1) Since my audience is largely Objectivist oriented, I imagined it would be unnecessary as attacking a weakened Moammar al-Gadhafi appears to me an obvious proposition and 2) recent public opinion polls suggest that the American people have taken the default position on the idea—that is, to do nothing. In the matter of the former, I have been surprised to find so much strident opposition—to the point of refusing to discuss the matter—to a Libyan campaign among Objectivists and other rational people concerned about defending the republic in the current war (I do not count Libertarian types like Harry Browne and Ron Paul as among the rational). In the case of the latter, this was to be expected by the failure of President Obama to do any preparation work for the coming campaign until yesterday when he made the case in the most abject and selfless terms humanly possible: “But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government”—not the best way to embolden an already weary people to arms. It is also a very dangerous call to arms because Bahrain, China, Saudi Arabia and countless other states are currently doing the same thing, why are we not attacking them as well?

It is not my job to fund Mr. Obama’s deficiencies—even if it were, I have neither the time nor patience for such a Sisyphean crusade. But, there is a very simple and relevant case for attacking and helping to destroy the regime of Gadhafi and bringing that tyrant murderer to some manner of justice either in a court or on the battlefield. In the course of this case I will deal with what I think are the best arguments that can be made against the wisdom of getting involved in this Libyan rebellion. They are: 1) President Obama, through his words and actions over the past two years—reinforced by yesterday’s speech—cannot be trusted to conduct such a campaign in anything approaching the proper manner and will simply waste immense amounts of American blood and treasure in a selfless war to achieve nothing; 2) the United States has no rationally self-interested reason to bomb Gadhafi’s armed forces or to attack his air force—the Libyan rebels are not our allies and this is their war; and 3) if we intervene, kill Gadhafi and then the rebels create an Islamist regime in place of the Colonel’s old socialistic kleptocracy, we will actually be worse off than before we started—not to mention poorer in blood and treasure. These are all legitimate objections one might and can raise to the notion of intervening militarily in Libya. They all, however, lose sight of our very real national interests at stake in the demise of Gadhafi: for our murdered countrymen, for ourselves, and for our interests in the broader war which we still find ourselves fighting almost a decade after the fatal attacks of 11 September 2001.

Let me start by saying that as far as the Libyan Rebels are concerned, they are a means to an end—not, as alleged human rights advocates pushing for war would have it, the end in itself. The United States ought not to care or even want to attempt to steer the Libyan rebellion in any direction other than by simply maintaining that if it ends up being “Gadhafi: Part Two” or something even worse, we will not take it lightly. No regime established by the Libyan people that is just as bad or worse than the one Gadhafi currently runs will have any extra legitimacy—it will be just as illegitimate and just as open to invasion and destruction as the country is right now under the man President Reagan referred to as a “mad dog.”

Our war with a group of ideologically committed fanatics goes back at least as far as 1979, when a revolution occurred in Iran that resulted in the ascension of the modern world’s first fundamentalist Islamic state. That state, run by a council of clerics headed by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, inaugurated a war against the west directed primarily at the western world’s greatest ally in the Middle East—Israel. The United States—avowedly called “the Great Satan” by the regime in Qom (the city of Iran where the supreme leader governs)—was also a target of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism throughout the region whenever it had the means and opportunity.

The decade of the 1980’s witnessed a proliferation of Arab enemies of the United States—largely supplied by the Soviet Union (the exception here is Afghanistan where supplies came largely from the United States and other Islamic countries). One such enemy was the dictator of Libya—Moammar al-Gadhafi. Gadhafi came to power in a military coup in 1969, instituting what was at the time a fashionable Arab national socialist regime like that of Nasser in Egypt and, later, the Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. As such, there is a mistaken propensity among Western commentators to view Gadhafi (also Hussein) as ultimately secular forces in the Middle East. This is a mistake that both men have been all too happy to take advantage of in more recent years when they used this misconception to claim support from the West as a bulwark against the Islamic fundamentalists they allegedly held at bay. Hussein did this in his war against Khomeini’s Iran, and Gadhafi has taken this pose in the decades after he ceased trying to direct terrorist efforts outside of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both Gadhafi and Hussein, while not being ideologically driven to worldwide jihad against the west, have fomented terrorism against the state of Israel quite openly during their long reigns. Gadhafi has been a very consistent supporter (mostly through immense sums of money, but also through weapons training) of organizations like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is avowedly Islamist in its intentions and goals. Quite simply it supports the destruction of the state of Israel (a goal which Gadhafi has glossed over by claiming it simply means the creation of one new inclusive state in the region with both Jews and Palestinians living together named something like “Isratine”) and the creation of a new Palestinian Islamic State. Gadhafi is so committed to this goal that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization began the peace process with Israel, he expelled that group and all Palestinians from Libya (something on the order of 30,000 people) as a sign of his disapproval. Gadhafi is a fascist, yes. But Arab fascism is not atheistic, or even secular. No more than the hedonist House of Saud is a force for fringe philosophies of the ancient Greeks.

The troubles the United States had directly with Gadhafi, and which he has never been brought to any sort of justice for, began in the early 1980s when rumors of Libyan assassination plotting reached the State Department and President Reagan. The rumors were credible enough that Reagan expelled the Libyan mission from the United States and cut off all diplomatic ties with Gadhafi. As the tensions rose, Gadhafi decided to encourage truly radical terrorists like Abu Nidal (Osama Bin Laden’s forerunner) to take dramatic actions against non-Israeli Western targets. Another group which intelligence agencies believe was bankrolled by the Libyan dictator is the Palestinian Liberation Front, which hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in October 1985. An American (a handicapped Jewish man in a wheelchair) Leon Klinghoffer was killed during the hijacking.

Libyan terrorism struck the west again that year when, in December, the airports of Rome and Vienna were bombed. Twenty people died in those attacks, five of whom were Americans. Again, in April 1986, Libyan agents blew up a West Berlin disco which was widely known to be the haunt of U.S. servicemen—two U.S. servicemen were killed as well as a Turkish civilian while 230 people were injured including fifty U.S. servicemen. Libyan cables intercepted in the aftermath led to a limited bombing reprisal against Tripoli on 15 April 1986 at the order of President Reagan. No other measures were taken against the Libyans for the bombings (the Germans later prosecuted the Libyan agents responsible for planning and carrying the bombings out when secret files were discovered post unification).

Most famously, and despicably, Gadhafi retaliated for the April bombing of Tripoli by ordering the destruction of a passenger aircraft known to be full of Americans, Pam Am 103 out of London en route to New York City on 21 December 1988. When the plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, 259 people died (189 Americans) and eleven more were killed on the ground by the falling debris. Gadhafi formally accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2003 as part of an unprecedented deal that involved payoffs to victims families, the lifting of international sanctions and the restoration of diplomatic recognition. This does not, in my opinion, constitute anything approaching justice for the 197 Americans killed on orders from Gadhafi up through 1988. But the story did not end there as the Libyans blew up yet another airplane over Niger on 19 September 1989 which killed 170 people including seven Americans, the wife of the American ambassador to Chad among them. That’s 203 Americans (464 people altogether) known to have been deliberately murdered either on the direct orders of Gadhafi, his regime underlings or through Libyan funding of international terrorist organizations. It does not include the incalculable number of Israelis killed with the aid of millions of dollars from Gadhafi. Until the attacks of 11 September 2001, only Iran (mostly through similar surrogate networks in Palestinian terrorist groups and through Syria) surpassed Gadhafi as a murderer of Americans.

Gadhafi’s “sudden” quiet in the 1990s owes more to the collapse of his protector and weapons dealer—the Soviet Union—than it did to any fear of the Americans. What had he to be fearful of? The occasional bombing? Economic sanctions? He was left unscathed after rather brazenly attacking the most powerful country on the planet in numerous ways and murdering hundreds of its citizens abroad. He was the Bin Laden of the 1980s—an Islamic crackpot (though this one had international recognition as a head of state) who rather openly killed westerners and got away with it for all intents and purposes. There could be few better examples than Libya and Iran for Bin Laden to have observed before launching his own terrorist war on the United States in the 1990s.

What message does the republic send when it not only refuses to punish attacks on its civilians abroad, but, encourages murderers to wait long enough and steal enough money to buy absolution and have the slate wiped clean at the end of the day? There have always been some impediments to taking out the Libyan dictator. He had Soviet backing for many years, he seemed to have a firm grip on his puny country and a loyal (read bought) military machine that would be difficult to eliminate. Also, other missions got in the way after 1988—Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo—and by the time you get to that horrific day in September, twelve years had elapsed. But does that make any difference? That’s twelve years of proving you can get away with it. If one goes back to the opening salvo in 1985, it’s sixteen years. Only Iran could claim a longer reprieve from punitive justice, twenty-two years.

Every government with any pretension to international respect, domestic loyalty and legitimacy must protect the lives of its citizens from foreign insult and attack. This has been the cornerstone of the government’s raison d’ĂȘtre from the very beginning. All governments accept this as a sine qua non of civilized relations with one another. Insult and abuse of foreign citizens has long been considered—and has been acted upon—as a casus belli. Our republic is not only not immune to this aspect of government, it is more obligated under it than most governments because our citizens are the government. Each individual is invested with that portion of the nation’s sovereignty that he can rightly command without impugning the rights of his fellows under our political theory. Thus, when one of our countrymen is assaulted or killed abroad—and for no justifiable reason that puts him in the wrong—we take it extremely seriously and always have.

At the beginning of the wars of the French Revolution in 1793 up through the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Royal Navy routinely boarded American merchantmen flying the neutral flag of the republic to reclaim and impress native born Englishmen—scooping up the occasional native born American in the process in addition to naturalized citizens. This resulted in many hundreds of state-sponsored kidnappings over a period of nearly twenty years before the republic declared war on Great Britain. This was only kidnapping, and only several Americans were killed between 1793 and 1812. Many thousands of Americans died in the War of 1812 to vindicate American neutrality and the right of American merchant ships to travel unmolested.

When a special mission was sent to France in 1797 to treat for a resolution of a diplomatic crisis, it was told to pay massive bribes just to meet with the French foreign minister. Knowledge of it led to an undeclared naval war with France. There was intense clamoring for a declaration of war from Congress against France, as well as fear of a French invasion. No one even died in this affair, diplomats were insulted.

Barbary pirates, operating from ports in North Africa stretching from the modern nations of Morocco to Libya, routinely preyed upon American commerce as soon as ships began flying the American flag (thus losing British protection) in the Mediterranean in the 1780s. The policy of the government under the Articles of Confederation and through the first twelve years of the republic under the Constitution was to negotiate treaties of tribute with the local rulers who controlled the pirates. The pirates not only raided American commerce but kidnapped and enslaved American sailors, who then had to be negotiated for by ransom-paying American agents. This sometimes took many years and many thousands of dollars. Most pernicious was that one could never be sure when the local potentate would decide that the Americans were cheating him or that the rates of tribute being gathered by other potentates made him look sufficiently weak that he needed to cut down the American flag and unleash his pirates to begin the process all over again. Washington and Adams would have liked to chastise the pirates of North Africa militarily but that required massive outlays for a navy; tribute was cheaper given the precarious financial position of the government. Washington, addressing this, said he had been endeavoring to “gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.”

Thomas Jefferson altered all of that by sending naval squadrons into the Mediterranean Sea to chastise the Beys, Deys, and Sultans of the Northern African states and force treaties out of them respecting the shipping rights of American merchantmen sans tribute. In the case of Tripoli, this proved especially dramatic as the government waged a prolonged naval and land campaign that sought to displace the sitting Bey with his disaffected brother. That process, while succeeding in the eastern portion of the Tripolitan state, failed. But the mere threat of a small ragtag army marching from Alexandria to Eastern Libya convinced the Bey that peace without tribute was better than being killed and displaced, thus vindicating Jefferson’s opinion of nearly two decades that he “should prefer...war [because] 1. Justice is in favor of this opinion. 2. Honor favors it. 3. It will procure us respect in Europe, and respect is a safe-guard to interest. ... 5. I think it least expensive.”

The wars with the pirates resumed when, during the War of 1812, they decided there was no threat of American naval punishment. After the war ended, President Madison dispatched nearly the entire navy (ballooned because of the war) to North Africa where it, once and for all, ended the threat of North African pirates. This was an off and on war of great expense fought by a young republic without any real naval traditions over more than a decade, all merely to protect shipping right of way and to stop the practice of hostage taking and enslavement of American citizens.

I could continue to lay out the history of wars or near wars that the American republic has fought or threatened to fight to maintain the honor, dignity and rights of Americans abroad who were minding their own business or merely trying to perform their jobs without injury and offense to others. The republic never set down a statute of limitations for rightful retaliation and never forgot the wrongs suffered unaddressed at the hands of foreign depots and potentates. The reason for this was simple. They wanted the American flag to stand for something abroad. To be respected, loved, revered, and admired foremost, particularly by all those who wanted liberty and the right to make their own way in the world. But they also wanted that flag to protect its citizens in every corner of the world. They wanted the exclamation “I am a citizen of the United States!” to be a protective shield that would cause all who heard it to immediately think twice about what it would mean to molest such a person.

For much too long in the recent history of our relations with the various states and potentates of the Middle East—first Iran, then Libya, then Syria, then the Palestinians, then Iraq, then Afghanistan—we have taken a cavalier and indefensible position on nearly all affronts to American citizens. Avenging them, protecting them, defending them was not and continues not to be seen as “worth it.” The risks to some useless “peace process” or some alleged alliance were and are seen as too great. Or the aftermath question: what happens after we get rid of so and so? What if it’s worse? These paralyzing and cowardly actions and thoughts are symptomatic of everything that has been and is wrong in our policies and approach to the entire region since 1979.

It cannot be worse. A Libya controlled by Gadhafi is not in any respect that matters better than a Libya controlled by Osama bin Laden. Is it freer? No. Is it less anti-American? No. Is it more respectful of individual life? No. Is it less pro-terrorist? No. Gadhafi’s own take on Bin Laden circa January 2009 was that “Terrorism is a dwarf not a giant. Osama bin laden is a person who can be given a chance to reform.” Having allowed Gadhafi to attack us for a decade and never making a serious effort to get rid of him has only added fuel to the fires of encouragement for anti-western terrorists in the whole region. This rebellion and civil war presents a golden opportunity to rectify all of this at least as concerns Libya. A civil war always has been and always will be a recipe for foreign intervention. Foreign states almost always intervene in civil wars because one (or both) side asks them to do so, or because they wish to conquer a divided country, or because they have some other interest at stake. One side has asked us to intervene and, more importantly, we have some other interest as stake.

The capture, trial, and execution of Gadhafi or his simply being killed due to our efforts and/or assistance is our interest. No one in the world has the right to kill and murder American citizens and get away with it. It does not matter how long ago it was. Our countrymen are not less valuable to us because they have been murdered, nor do we drop our quest for vengeance and justice because years pass before we had an opportunity to have it. What sort of nation are we precisely if we can simply yawn and forget our fellows who were murdered by a tyrant’s caprice and then convince ourselves that his continued survival—particularly when we have the ability to kill him—is not a black stain on the edifice of our republic? We cannot claim to uphold anyone’s rights at home or abroad, to stand for anything at all, to even live under a government worthy of the name if we have become that shallow and contemptuous of our fellow citizens. And to have people who claim to understand reason and self-interest better than most others seriously argue that we have nothing to gain at Gadhafi’s demise—that it is not worth risking American military servicemen—is saddening.

No American serviceman is worth any of our enemies. Even if I were offered a deal by Lucifer himself to cast all of the republic’s foreign enemies into the sun for the cost of one American serviceman I would reject it. We cannot decide on going to war based on that notion for we shall never defend the republic or wage war in its interests ever again. No American life is worth less to American citizens than the lives of our enemies. But the credibility of the republic’s name, justice for murdered countrymen, vengeance against the man who ordered their deaths, making the flag feared and revered to enemies and friends respectively are all legitimate self-interested goals that all Americans should be willing to fight for. They are goals that all past Americans have fought and died for in every corner of the planet. They are notions, concepts and ideas that catapulted the republic from paying embarrassing tributes to pirates to commanding the free world through trade and openness—delivering justice to all and punishing any and all enemies with severe prejudice.

Those among Objectivists who cannot even support a campaign against one of the premiere butchers of their countrymen cannot have any rational expectation that their fellow Americans will ever follow their lead to thwart the aims of the Iranians. Who would take them seriously? When is the last time Ayatollah Khamenei killed an American? What is the magic number of years it takes to suddenly be absolved of murdering an American? Apparently such a number exists in the allegedly moral universe of some, but not in mine.

Gadhafi is not our biggest threat in the world. But no one is arguing that he is, or that we even devote massive resources to killing him. It will not take massive resources. The man has alienated seemingly every nation remotely close to him and all of them want a piece of the final part of his bloody story. We are not called upon to ignore the Iranians in this mission, merely to take care of one piece of long overdue business and tell every enemy of this republic in the world that no matter how long it takes, no matter how well protected they think they are, the United States will find and destroy them eventually. Killing and murdering Americans means, and can only mean, death to the culprits. This is a message worth fighting for.

Finally, as concerns President Obama’s handling of the situation; it’s already abysmal. Declaiming all American objectives that make any sense, making no mention of killing or capturing Gadhafi, the President has draped the entire venture in a shameful and cowardly altruism more appropriate to a nun or medieval flagellant. No American will be or can be inspired by his insipid message. It is the message of the weak, self-effacing, and cowardly West, led by the appeasing United Nations and the weakest and most compromised Western powers—France and Great Britain (Spain and Germany are not to be considered "powers" and the former can hardly be considered "Western" at this point). They have all declaimed any selfish objectives: it’s all for the benefit of the Libyan people they self-righteously intone. This is the worst possible reason to risk American lives, because the question that then needs to be asked to make it legitimate is this: what’s so damned special about the Libyan people? They have asked for our aid, this much is true. Are they secular? Some of them yes, but there are many who are not and, more importantly, there is no indication they plan to set up a secular free state in place of Gadhafi’s dictatorship. Are they likely to respect the rule of law and individual rights (far more important than whatever the hell is meant by “democracy”)? Who the hell knows? If history and common sense are any guide, almost certainly not. So, again, what the hell is so special about the Libyan people that they deserve world-wide intervention? The answer is obviously nothing.

Unfortunately, if the question is consistently framed in that way, then no rational person could, should, or will support attacking Libya. Not because the post-Gadhafi state will be worse—it cannot be—but because we ought not to intervene in civil wars unless we have made an alliance with the side that is clearly morally and politically right and good, or because we have a legitimate grievance and cause for war against one side or the other (or both sides). The latter certainly exists in the Libyan case and thus justifies our going to war, but if no one plans to make that the cause for the war, then it is yet another war for nothing which will eventuate in nothing except sacrificed Americans. This can only further depress the spirits of the American people. I sincerely hope that this oratorical drapery around the mission is simply rhetoric designed to mute criticism from leftist Europeans and worthless Middle Eastern demagogues while a league of nations that despises Gadhafi for their own legitimate reasons does everything possible to assure his ouster. Anything less than that—if Sarkozy, Obama, Cameron, and the rest of them are serious in their self-abnegation—would be tragic.

For more on this crisis, Gadhafi, and how to deal with him, read:

Libya and Terrorism

"Support to Proxies,", 26 April 2005

"Give bin Laden a chance, Gaddafi tells Obama" Reuters, 22 January 2009

"Gaddafi 'personally gave the order for Lockerbie bombing' and I have PROOF, claims dictator's former justice minister," Gerri Peev, 24 February 2011

"Is Barack Obama Secretly Swiss?" Christopher Hitchens, 25 February 2011

"While the White House Slept," John R. Bolton, 6 March 2011

"American Inaction Favors Qaddafi," Christopher Hitchens, 7 March 2011

"Libya needs action now," John R. Bolton, 14 March 2011

"Don't Let Qaddafi Win," Christopher Hitchens, 14 March 2011

"Against a No-Fly Zone," Stanley Kurtz, 17 March 2011

"Libya, the US, and the Moral Imperative to Intervene," Shadi Hamid, 17 March 2011

"Libya: A good intervention is hard to pull off -- but we should still try," Charles Moore, 18 March 2011

Obama Statement on Libyan Action, 20 March 2011

Statement from Paris Summit on Libya, 20 March 2011

"Qaddafi Must Go," Max Boot, 28 March 2011